Governor Mike Huckabee got himself in a heap of trouble after the shootings in Connecticut when he said this:
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
He tried to nuance those comments with these comments:
“I think it’s important that we quit apologizing for having a spiritual conversation,” Huckabee continued. “Quit being ashamed that we believe in God.”
During his own Fox News program over the weekend, Huckabee also spoke about the massacre, tying the supposed removal of God from society to the increased instances of violence. “We’ve escorted [God] right out of our culture and marched him off the public square,” Huckabee said, according to Inquisitr. “And then we express our surprise that a culture without him actually reflects what it has become.”
I am one of those people who were horribly annoyed by his first comments. But I’m not really sure his explanation has made it any better.
For one thing, the idea that any of us have the power to “escort” God out of the culture or “march” God off the public square is laughable. What kind of God is that, so small and weak that we could tell the Divine to leave the earth and the creation God so lovingly made?
For another, I don’t know who he is talking about when he says Americans are “ashamed” we believe in God. Did anyone pay attention to the political rhetoric during the last election? It seemed that all of the Republican candidates (except for the one who happened to be LDS) spent the entire election talking about how important their personal faith was.
My son’s junior high band concert the other night at a public school was chock full of sacred Christmas music.
The school next door to our church has a Christmas tree in the front entrance, for goodness sake.
Who, exactly, is supposedly ashamed of believing in God?
We all have the freedom to worship as we choose.
But it seems that if you want to express that freedom to NOT worship God in a church, then people like Gov Huckabee might just blame you for the supposed breakdown of our society.
Remember his comment?
“And then we express our surprise that a culture without him actually reflects what it has become.”
When things go bad, we understand the natural impulse to blame someone else. It keeps us from having to reflect on our own behavior, our own culpability.
But we, on our better days, resist that natural impulse to blame someone else. It is not a helpful impulse. It does not create change. It will not remove our own responsibility for the problems we see around us in the world.
And, of course, Gov Huckabee, Pastor Huckabee, ought to know this. Jesus, who we are apparently so ashamed of these days, once said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1-3)
So, before we start blaming our non-church-going neighbors for mass killings in elementary schools, I feel like I ought to, we church-going folks ought to, examine the logs in our own eyes first.
And even before Gov Huckabee started commenting about those people who have stopped worshiping Jesus and ruined our culture, I’ve been thinking about those people too.
Because many of them grew up in church.
Many of them walked out the door one day and never went back.
We can find them now on Sunday mornings, worshiping at St. Arbucks with the liturgy provided by the New York Times.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that the fastest growing religious identity is “none”. “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%)”.
And I’ve been thinking about the “nones” as I work on my Christmas Eve message. Because for me the story of the GOOD NEWS in Jesus Christ is so good, so amazingly life saving and wonderful, that I am compelled to share it with others.
(Disclaimer—I am referring to people who would identify as Christian. I have no problem with the idea that there are other people who feel just as compelled to be Jewish, or Muslim, or whatever.)
And so, what I have experienced in my life as Grace, as Gift, as Love, through the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Son is apparently not experienced by everyone in the same way.
If people are leaving church, if they have decided they would rather be religiously unaffiliated than sign their name to the Good News, I am wondering who is at fault?
Should we blame the people who left the church because of the judgment and hypocrisy coming so loudly from the church at large that it drowned out the Good News of the Gospel?
Or should we blame ourselves for taking a message of life, love, and grace and turning it into a shamble?
The fact is, I know plenty of “nones” who are doing the best to live out the Gospel. They volunteer in the community. They care for the “least of these”. They welcome the little children. But they don’t feel there is room for them in 21st Century American Christianity.
I also know plenty of people who go to church each week, and yet don’t do a darn thing to care for the poor, the widow, the oppressed or the orphan as Jesus instructed us to do. Plenty of people walk out of churches across our nation believing that salvation is a private matter between them and Jesus, believing that it doesn’t matter how they treat their brothers and sisters in the community.
When Westboro Baptist “Church” pickets at funerals of first graders, why are we blaming the “nones” for the decline of our society?
When Christian leaders like Pat Robertson blame the victims’ “sinful lives” for the devastation caused by hurricanes such as Katrina, why are we blaming the “nones” for the breakdown of our world?
Far more people in our culture could tell you the American church is “against” things like homosexuality, women, contraception, abortion, health care, social programs, etc, based on what our own representatives unashamedly say in the public square. Fewer people could actually tell us what we are “for”.
So why are we blaming the “nones” again?
I didn’t know any of the children who died last week in that violence on the other side of the country. And yet, I am still traumatized. At my son’s band concert the other night, as I was sitting there listening to the band play Christmas songs of peace and joy, I was making plans for how I would take out a gunman, were he to wander in off the street and start shooting. Seriously. Was making plans. Also realizing I would likely die in the attempt. But looking at those sweet junior high kids with their acne and bad hair, I realized I would do what I could to give them the chance of life.
Isn’t that the Good News? To pursue life even to the point of death?
The Confession of 1967 declares “Life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage. Humans are free to seek life within the purpose of God: to develop and protect the resources of nature for the common welfare, to work for justice and peace in society, and in other ways to use creative powers for the fulfillment of human life.”
And so my modest proposal is that we stop trying to find blame outside of our own selves. Yes, we should engage in conversations about easy availability of guns, access to health (and mental health) care, and how to prevent such tragedies from happening again. And again. And, sadly, again.
But it is time for church leaders—Pastor Huckabee, I’m looking at you—to STOP suggesting that the fault for such tragedies should rest on the shoulders of the people we have kicked out of the church because of our hypocrisy, narrow mindedness, and focus on self-preservation over the proclamation of the GOOD NEWS.
Instead, it is time for churches to hold up a mirror to our own behavior, to remember the Good News that brought us together in the first place, and then to day by day go about the slow, painful, and important work of making our world a better place. And, even in the midst of this tragedy and sadness, maybe we can still do that with gratitude, courage, and joy.